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Tim Hortons, Hortons', or Horton's? Donut or Doughnut?

November 7, 2013

National Donut Day takes place on the first Friday of June and on Nov 5. We'll accept that. Grab yourself a coffee and a donut to enjoy while you read this related post.

Coffee, donuts, and spelling…

Tim Horton sure is one famous Canadian. He’s known not only for being a hockey legend (who played primarily for the Toronto Maple Leafs), but also for his chain of popular coffee and donut shops all across Canada and the US.

Last week, I edited a lesson on Tim Horton in our in our Famous People section. This led to a discussion with our writer, Tara, about why the restaurant is called Tim Hortons when his last name is Horton. Why not Tim Horton’s? And how about the spelling of donut vs. doughnut—which is correct? I decided to do a little sleuthing for my blog post this week.

Tim Horton Donuts & Tim Horton’s Do-nuts

It seems like there were a few different names originally. According to Tim Horton himself in a video on the About page of, it was called Tim Horton Donuts at one point. And according to Always Fresh, the story of the Tim Hortons restaurant empire by Ron Joyce and Robert Thompson, it was once called Tim Horton’s Do-nuts. So how did it become Tim Hortons?

Tim Horton’s?

It’s common practice to use the possessive form as a company name. Take the fast food restaurant chain Wendy’s, for example (who, incidentally, partnered up with Tim Hortons in 1995). Is Tim Hortons a mistake that got fossilized over time—a result of dropping the apostrophe?

Tim Hortons

Well, my research is coming up a bit short. I can’t find anything online or in the book Always Fresh about why the decision was made to call the restaurant Tim Hortons, but it appears the change happened very early on, so I suspect it was a company decision and not an error. Company names are often pluralized (e.g., Starbucks, Chapters). Maybe as soon as there was more than one restaurant, they decided to go with the plural form.

A Tim Hortons’ Coffee or a Tim Hortons’s Coffee?

How should we write the possessive form? According to the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, we should add ’s to a singular noun that ends in -s (e.g., Dickens’s novel)  but an apostrophe only to a plural noun that ends in -s (e.g., the Lincolns’ house). So it depends on how you look at it: if you see Tim Hortons as the singular man, you would write Tim Hortons’s coffee.

But if you see it as the plural restaurants, you would write Tim Hortons’ coffee. Perhaps this is why we see both cases so often, because people aren’t sure how to look at it. I recommend using the apostrophe only (Tim Hortons’ coffee) because I see Tim Hortons as the restaurant chain, not the man (his name was Tim Horton, after all).

Donut or Doughnut?

Here’s one I can definitively answer. In American, Canadian, and British English, the preferred spelling is doughnut (according to reputable dictionaries like Merriam-Webster’s, Oxford Canadian, and Oxford Dictionaries Online). In most dictionaries, donut is listed as a variant of doughnut, meaning both are correct and accepted, but doughnut is the more accurate choice.

However, the Tim Hortons website uses donut, so that’s what we used in our ESL Library lesson on Tim Horton.

Timmy’s or Timmies?

Finally, how do we spell the cute, common nickname for Tim Hortons? Is it Timmy’s or Timmies? This one’s not going to appear in any dictionary, so I decided to defer to the company’s decision as well as the logic of a plural noun form. According to the Tim Hortons website, the correct spelling is Timmies.

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Comments (2)

WP (Guest)

I've heard that they changed it from Tim Horton's to Tim Hortons when they expanded into Quebec because the possessive 's doesn't work in French. Other restaurant chains like Wendy's and McDonald's used a slightly different approach and changed the apostrophe into a maple leaf on all their signage across the country.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

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